Elgar’s Unknown Friend Unmasked:
The Violin Concerto and Enigma Variations
By Robert W. Padgett
Presented to the Elgar Society
North American Conference
Vancouver, CanadaJune 14, 2014
If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.
George Orwell in his dystopian novel 1984
Two of Edward Elgar’s major symphonic works stand out from the rest for three reasons. Firstly, they bookend the zenith of his career as a composer. Secondly, they contain both overt and covert dedications. Thirdly, they harbor a number of intriguing cryptographic parallels that conceal a stealth continuity. These two orchestral works are the Enigma Variations (Op. 36) and the Violin Concerto in B minor (Op. 61).
A fresh examination of these two pillars of Elgar’s symphonic corpus reveals they possess enciphered dedications to God and Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior of Elgar’s Roman Catholic faith. Variation XIII – a Romanza – is dedicated clandestinely to Christ, and so too is the Andante from the violin concerto. It may be convincingly argued the Enigma Theme portrays the suffering Messiah in his loneliness on the cross, Variation XIII his death, and Variation XIV his triumphant resurrection. After all, there are fourteen Stations of the Cross (the Via Crucis) with a fifteenth routinely added for the resurrection, and the Enigma Variations are fifteen movements. Evocative of Variation XIII, the violin concerto’s Andante depicts Christ resting in the stone sepulcher. This conclusion is cryptically intimated by Elgar’s odd choice to cite an epitaph from a tombstone for his furtive dedication. The enigmatic character of the dedications for both the Variations and violin concerto inevitably invite the conclusion the mysterious friends are indeed one and the same.
A renewed analysis reveals the violin concerto conceals a triple dedication, not to three living and three dead persons as Jerrold Northrop Moore theorizes, but rather to the Triune God. The evidence more than suggests the first movement is secretly dedicated to God the Father, the second to God the Son, and the third to God the Holy Spirit. Newly developed information and analysis in support of these conclusions are presented along with a consideration of analogous ciphers shared by the Enigma Variations and the violin concerto that authenticate these discoveries. It seems almost too obvious to mention, but Elgar was an observant Roman Catholic who dedicated the majority of his major works to God. From such a vantage point, his covert dedications for the Enigma Variations and violin concerto are wholly consistent (pun intended) with his established character as a composer.
A German Connection
Elgar’s glory days spanned twelve years starting in 1899 with the premiere of the Enigma Variations under the great Wagner protégé Hans Richter. They culminated in 1910 with the violin concerto performed by another German-speaking European, Fritz Kreisler. As an unapologetic disciple of the German school of composition – at least until the Great War when all things German were publicly discredited and disavowed – it is hardly astonishing prominent German musicians rallied behind Elgar's refreshingly innovative yet conservative music. Following a performance of The Dream of Gerontius in Germany, Richard Strauss toasted Elgar by declaring, “I raise my glass to the welfare and success of the first English Progressivist, Meister Edward Elgar, and of the young progressive school of English composers.” Another German, August Jaeger, championed Elgar’s music at the London publishing firm Novello. The inspiration behind Nimrod, it was Jaeger who invoked the plight of Beethoven (another German composer) when Elgar, plagued by doubt and depression, vowed to abandon composition. Fortunately for the history of Western music, Jaeger persuaded him to carry on in the face of adversity until the breakthrough came with the Enigma Variations, launching his international reputation as a leading English composer.
While conversing with Charles Sanford Terry in November 1910, Elgar described the superlative theme at Rehearsal 87 of the violin concerto as “ritterlich,” a German word meaning knightly and chivalrous. Elgar’s use of the German language to convey his feelings towards the violin concerto confirms his unwavering sympathy for German romanticism, something Longfellow glorified in his novel Hyperion. Elgar's mother was the first to inculcate this unquenchable zeal for German romanticism by reading to him often from Longfellow's poetry and prose. Longfellow was a fount of inspiration for Elgar's early triumphs like Rondel (Op. 16, No. 3), Spanish Serenade (Op. 23), The Black Knight (Op. 25), and King Olaf (Op. 30). He was so grateful to Hans Richter for agreeing to the conduct the premiere of the Enigma Variations that he presented him with a copy of Longfellow’s Hyperion. In a letter accompanying the book, Elgar wrote, “I send you the little book about which we conversed & from which I, as a child, received my first idea of the great German nations.” Little did Richter realize the identity of the famous unstated Principal Theme to the Enigma Variations is quoted in its pages: Martin Luther’s Ein feste Burg. If only he had the time and inclination to read it, Richter would have likely realized Elgar literally gave away the answer to his “Enigma.”
The Violin Concerto
The Violin Concerto in B minor (Op. 61) was commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society and was composed almost entirely in 1909 and 1910. Some materials were sketched earlier in 1905 after Fritz Kreisler gave a thought-provoking interview with The Hereford Times. He publicly acknowledged Elgar “as the greatest living composer…on an equal footing with Beethoven and Brahms” and wished he would “write something for the violin.” Being compared to some of the finest composers of the German tradition by no less than Fritz Kreisler was a profound tribute to Elgar’s meteoric rise. However, Kreisler’s complaint rings hollow because Elgar had written some shorter works for the violin well before 1905. In 1891 he composed his fiendishly difficult La Capriciese (Op. 17) for solo violin and piano, a standard encore piece. Other works for solo violin and piano include Salut D’Amore (Op. 12, originally titled Liebesgruss which is German for “Love’s Greeting”), Chanson de Nuit (Op. 15, No. 1) and Chanson de Matin (Op. 15, No. 2). Kreisler’s appeal obviously implied something far more substantial than a brief encore or recital work. Elgar scanned the papers and could read between the lines. He immediately sketched some melodies before setting them aside to simmer. One of those themes would later boil over and become the opening subject of the violin concerto.
Elgar’s violin concerto is in three movements. The first is the Allegro in B minor which is set in 4/4 (or common) time and has 366 measures. The second movement is the Andante in B-flat major, a considerably shorter section at 132 bars. Like the first, it is also in common time. The third movement is the Allegro molto which returns to the B minor mode but eventually cadences dramatically on the Picardy third in B major. The final movement is 350 measures with nine extra ghost measures in the Cadenza between Rehearsal 105 and 106. This is the only movement with ghost measures, a feature one would expect if it were dedicated in secret to the Holy Ghost. Consistent with the two prior movements, the third is in common time.
A Public Friend
The concerto is dedicated publicly to the renowned violin soloist and fellow composer Fritz Kreisler whose early and very public encouragement spurred Elgar to take on such a daunting project. On November 10, 1910, Elgar conducted the premiere as Kreisler performed the concerto on his 1741 Joseph Guarneri violin. Robert Anderson writes, “No subsequent Elgar premiere received such acclamation.” After the performance waves of applause flooded Queen’s Hall for a quarter of an hour. This was the indisputable high water mark of Elgar’s career, and Kreisler’s would eventually follow with the American debut of the teenage Jascha Heifetz at Carnegie Hall in October 1917. Years earlier after hearing the then twelve-year-old Heifetz perform the Mendelssohn violin concerto at a private house party in Berlin, Kreisler announced to all in attendance, “We may as well break our fiddles across our knees.” Kreisler witnessed the rise of the next generation of great violinists and welcomed it with a wry sense of humor.
A Secret Friend
Besides the public inscription to Kreisler, Elgar privately dedicated his violin concerto to an unknown friend by citing a Spanish fragment from Alain-René Lesage’s picaresque novel Gil Blas: “Aquí está encerrada el alma de . . . . .” The literal translation is, “Here lies interred the soul of . . . . .” On the original print edition of the score the translation is given as, “Herein is confined the soul of . . . . .” The quotation is an epitaph discovered by two traveling students on a partially effaced tombstone near a spring where they stopped to refresh themselves. The five dots signify the friend’s name, an enigma that has invited endless debate without a satisfactory resolution. Diana McVeagh inveighs, “The mystery has prompted speculation, and it is strange that, having appeared distressed at the curiosity aroused by his ‘Enigma’ of 1899, Elgar should have invited it again in 1910.” Even McVeigh recognizes an unmistakable relationship between these two works. Indeed, why would Elgar invite such an inconvenient scrutiny? It does not appear so strange when one realizes the secret friend of both works is the same personage.
The Enigma Variations
Unlike the violin concerto, the Enigma Variations were not commissioned. They began as a private project that propelled Elgar to international acclaim. Composed predominantly over a four-month period from 1898 to 1899, they are divided into fifteen movements with the Enigma Theme followed by fourteen variations. The generalized dedication is six words, “Dedicated to My Friends Pictured Within.” This mirrors the violin concerto’s Spanish fragment which is also six words. Individual movements are dedicated to specific friends identified in the subtitle by their initials (I-V, VII, XI, XII, and XIV for a total of nine), name (VIII) or nicknames (VI, IX, X). Elgar’s initials for Variation XIV (E. D. U.) are the phonetic equivalent of his German nickname Edoo, so it may be convincingly argued that the subtitle is both a set of initials and a nickname. The one notable exception to this pattern is Variation XIII which is dedicated to an unknown friend ostensibly represented by three asterisks (✡ ✡ ✡).
In yet another parallel with the violin concerto, Elgar quotes in Variation XIII a melodic fragment from Felix Mendelssohn’s concerto overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage (Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt, Op. 27). Three of the four fragments are in the original major mode and are enclosed in quotation marks. A fourth in the minor mode is cited without quotations presumably because it is not in the original major key. The consensus among scholars is these Mendelssohn incipits are extraneous to the Variations and have no bearing on the enigma. In like fashion, the Spanish fragment seems alien and unrelated to the violin concerto. However, a careful reevaluation flips the conventional wisdom on its head.
In a surprising twist, the clarinet solos in A-flat and E-flat major that begin with the Mendelssohn quotations are in reality music anagrams of the concluding phrase from Ein feste Burg. These are some of the multiple clues sprinkled throughout the Variations in which Elgar draws attention to the distinctive concluding phrase of the covert Principal Theme. Another place in which this occurs is the inner voice of Variation X Dorabella. Why did Elgar place so much emphasis on that ending phrase? The irony is he began the Enigma Theme’s counterpoint with the closing phrase of Ein feste Burg, and concluded it at the bridge with its opening phrase. This explains why all prior attempts to map prospective candidate themes with the Enigma Theme were doomed to fail because they invariably involved overlaying the beginnings of both melodies. Elgar’s tact was unexpected and could not be guessed because he placed the proverbial cart before the contrapuntal horse. It was the last thing anyone would expect.
The somber yet buoyant poetry of the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe inspired not only Mendelssohn to compose a symphonic overture, but also Beethoven to write a miniature cantata (Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt, Op. 112) and Schubert a song (Meeresstille, D. 216). Goethe’s poem Meerestille (Calm Sea) is translated in The Cambridge Companion to Mendelssohn as follows:
Deep stillness rules over the water,
The sea rests motionless,
And the sailor looks troubled
At the smooth surface all around.
Not a breeze from any direction!
Terrifying deathly stillness!
And in the uncanny distance
Not a wave moves.
The phrase “Terrifying deathly stillness” distills the essence of this poem, the brevity of which symbolizes the shortness of life culminating in the mortal calm of the grave. The three Mendelssohn fragments enclosed in quotations strongly imply Elgar’s secret dedicatee was at one time dead, a conspicuous inconsistency with his other friends “pictured within” who were very much alive when the Variations were written. By quoting an epitaph, Elgar further suggests the unknown friend of the violin concerto was also deceased.
A Spanish Dedication
The significant similarities between the dedications of the Enigma Variations and violin concerto present a strong circumstantial case that both friends are the same person. Each work has overt as well as covert dedications. Each dedication is six words long, one in English, and the other Spanish. Both cite fragments. One is melodic, and the other is literary. The sources for those fragments are undeniably foreign. The first hails from Germany, and the second originates from France. More ominously, the specter of death is embodied by both fragments. The first sonically portrays the deathly stillness of the sea. The second is on land from a tomb inscription located next to a spring of fresh water.
The violin concerto’s cryptic dedication is an epitaph mentioned in the introductory parable of Gil Blas. The Spanish phrase “Aquí está encerrada el alma de…..” literally translates as “Here lies interred the soul of…..” The tombstone reference conjures up a common boyhood experience for Elgar who would retreat to a quiet churchyard and sit on a tombstone to study orchestral scores by Beethoven and other celebrated composers. Elgar, with his razor-sharp mind, dug into the great symphonies to unearth their secrets while resting on a tombstone. This tombstone, recently rediscovered by Geoff Sansome, is located near the graves of Elgar’s grandparents in the churchyard of St. John Baptist Church.
|The tombstone where Elgar studied scores in his youth.|
In a letter to Nicholas Kilburn dated November 5, 1910, Elgar translated the Spanish fragment as follows: “Here, or more emphatically in here is enshrined or simply enclosed – buried is perhaps too definite – the soul of . . . . . ?” The entire epitaph reads, “Aquí está encerrada el alma del licenciado Pedro Garcias.” The English translation is, “Here lies interred the soul of licentiate Peter Garcias.” A licentiate is defined as “a person who has a license granted especially by a university to practice a profession.” While he received many honorary degrees, Elgar was an autodidact who never formally attended any university or conservatory. The adventures of Gil Blas share a parallel with Elgar’s life because Blas set out to attend university but was prevented from doing so by circumstances beyond his control. The soul embodied in the violin concerto is clearly not Elgar’s, although he certainly poured his own heart, mind, and soul into it.
In a conversation with his friend Ivor Atkins, Elgar said he would like the Nobilmente theme from the Andante inscribed on his tomb. This presents an obvious correspondence with the Spanish epitaph, something also inscribed on a tombstone. When he voiced this request, was Elgar subtly suggesting his secret friend was at one time entombed? What hope could Elgar possibly entertain beyond the grave that would motivate him to ask that this noble theme be carved on his final resting place? For a Roman Catholic, the answer could not be more obvious, particularly for one who composed the sacred oratorio The Dream of Gerontius (Op. 38). In a great oversight if not an outright sleight, that noble theme has yet to be carved on his tombstone. The Elgar Society should make a point of honoring Elgar’s request by petitioning that it be permanently engraved on his tombstone.
|The tombs of Edward and Alice Elgar.|
Charles Sanford Terry, a leading Bach scholar and professor at the University of Aberdeen, directly observed Elgar when he “. . . originally wrote ‘del’ before the blank, an indication that the name to follow was a masculine one.” Elgar’s proverbial slip of the pen appears to decisively rule out all feminine candidates. Some of the most popular are:
- Helen Weaver, an ex-fiancée who broke off a nine-month engagement in 1884.
- Alice Stuart-Wortley, a friend he nicknamed Windflower.
- Julia H. Worthington, an American suggested by Elgar’s wife to the ever impressionable Dora Powell (née Penny), the stuttering Dorabella personified in Variation X.
- Elgar’s wife, Caroline Alice Elgar.
In a peculiar oversight, no one has ever suggested the Virgin Mary as Elgar's secret friend even though her Latin name is five letters (Ave Maria). Terry further commented, “But I never heard Elgar speak of the personal note in his music except in regard to the Concerto, and of it I heard him say more than once when he was playing it over before it was produced, ‘I love it.’” This description is reminiscent of a passage from Elgar’s 1905 biography by Robert J. Buckley in which he describes a “photograph of a thirteenth-century panel sculpture of the Crucifixion from Worcester Cathedral.” Elgar looked on it “lovingly” and remarked, “It shows a wonderful feeling.” Such a loving feeling obviously resurfaced with the violin concerto. Concerning the secretive dedication, Terry stated, “. . . there are matters too sacred and too intimate for even the biggest friendship to pry into.” Elgar’s Edwardian restraint undoubtedly prompted his secretive dedications.
The placement of this Spanish dedication presents a revealing clue about the secret friend’s identity. Jerrold Northrop Moore observed, “. . . though the Concerto was dedicated to Kreisler, he set the tomb inscription opposite the opening page of music (the place in the oratorios where he had caused to be printed ‘A. M. D. G.’) with the poet’s name replaced by five dots…” The initials A. M. D. G. stand for the Jesuit motto “Ad majorem Dei gloriam” which means, “For the greater glory of God.” The Jesuits are formally known as the Society of Jesus, a Catholic religious order founded by the Spanish knight Ignatius of Loyola in 1534. The location of the Spanish dedication implicates this motto and the society it represents, one founded by a Spaniard and named after Elgar’s secret friend, Jesus.
Two Last Names
There is even more striking evidence for Jesus as the unknown friend involving the pairing the last names of the original soloist and his extraordinary violin, a 1741 Joseph Guarneri del Gesù. The surname Kreisler contains within it a phonetic approximation of Christ: Kreis-ler. The last name on the label of Kreisler’s violin is Gesù, the Italian translation of Jesus. Did Elgar arrange this uncanny combination because he recognized the last place anyone would look for a solution would be the last names of the soloist and his much-vaunted instrument? This hearkens back to Elgar’s use of the last phrase of Ein feste Burg to begin his counterpoint with the Enigma Theme. Fritz Kreisler was born Jewish but converted to Roman Catholicism. In a similar vein, Jesus was born Jewish and spearheaded the founding of Christianity. According to the Roman Catholic Church, Jesus appointed his chief disciple, the Apostle Peter, as the first Pope. The name in the original Spanish epitaph hints at this connection because it too is Peter.
The violin concerto is not the only instance in which Elgar associates Jesus with a famous Jewish violinist who converted to some strain of Christianity. The Mendelssohn fragments in Variation XIII are in the keys of F minor, A-flat major, and E-flat major. These Mendelssohn key letters FAE are a well-known music cryptogram representing the romantic German motto “Frei aber einsam” (Free but lonely) coined by the renowned violinist Joseph Joachim. It served as the basis for the F-A-E Violin Sonata composed in his honor by Robert Schumann (Elgar’s ‘ideal’), Johannes Brahms, and Albert Dietrich. Although born Jewish, Joachim converted to the dominant Lutheran faith of his German compatriots. Elgar’s coded reference to Joachim is a subtle hint regarding the distinctly Lutheran character of the covert Principal Theme, for Ein feste Burg was composed by the founder of that protestant faith, Martin Luther. It was Joachim’s early mentor, Mendelssohn, who celebrated the three-hundredth anniversary of the Augsburg Confession by composing his first extended symphonic work, the Reformation Symphony which concludes with a set of variations on Ein feste Burg. Joachim’s first name, Joseph, happens to be the first name of Mary’s husband, the stepfather of Jesus. It is also the given name of the Luthier who fabricated Kreisler’s violin, Giuseppe which in English is Joseph.
There is another reason to suspect the Spanish dedication is intended to draw attention to Kreisler’s violin. In Spanish, the sound post of the violin is called “El alma del violín.” Three of those words appear in Elgar’s unusual dedication. Adjacent to the sound post inside the violin’s sound box is the label affixed to the back of the instrument. As a sign of his faith, Joseph Guarneri included on his labels the IHS monogram and a Roman cross.
|Violin label of Joseph Guarneri with a Roman cross and IHS monogram.|
The IHS monogram is a Christogram, a combination of letters representing an abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ. The cross is another prevalent Christian symbol revered and worn by Roman Catholics. A careful inspection reveals the violin contains a cornucopia of Christograms and other theological symbols. It was previously noted Elgar was careful to set each of the three movements of his violin concerto in common time. This meter is often represented by a capital C, the first letter in the words Christ, Christian, cross, and cipher. In a remarkable twist, conducting this meter duplicates the sign of the cross.
In an apparent gesture to his not-so-secret friend, Elgar continuously made the sign of the cross above the orchestra as Kreisler performed the solo on his Guarneri del Gesù violin. The evidence at the 1910 premiere for the secret friend’s true identity was overwhelmingly subtle yet at the same time, transparent. The Trinitarian formula reveals the triune character of Elgar’s dedication, a pattern mirrored by the three-movement structure of the concerto. Devout Catholics like Elgar would routinely make the sign of the cross and recite it in Latin, “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.” Those 37 letters are more familiar as the English incantation, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
There is ample evidence implicating Jesus as the secret dedicatee of Variation XIII. The most elementary is the Roman Numeral Cipher in the title which blatantly encodes his initials. This simple cipher entails converting each number into its matching alphabetical counterpart. “X” represents the number ten, and the tenth letter of the alphabet is J. “III” signifies the number three, and the third letter is C. The Roman numerals “XIII” encode the initials “J. C.” Confirmation of the efficacy of this code is found in Variation IX where Elgar utilizes the same enciphering technique to identify August Jaeger’s initials, “A. J.” The divine nature of Elgar’s secret friend is literally spelled out by the first two melody notes of Variation XIII, G followed by D. This is an obvious phonetic rendering of the word God. According to the Roman Catholic canon of faith, Jesus is God. Variation XIII sonically portrays the sea, a word phonetically represented by the letter C, the first letter in Christ. The Enigma Theme is in common time which may be represented by a capital letter C. Finally, the lyrics of the covert Principal Theme, Ein feste Burg, conveniently provide the name of Elgar’s secret friend in the second stanza.
A much less obvious but no less compelling proof that Jesus is the secret friend personified in Variation XIII is in the form of the Romanza Cipher. This ingenious code encrypts the name of the Turin Shroud, the reputed burial cloth of Christ and arguably the most sacred relic in all Christendom. That remarkable cloth became an international sensation in the secular and Catholic press following Secondo Pia’s famous photographic negative taken at the International Shroud Exposition in May 1898, and it remains so to the present day. That astonishing picture was taken only six months before Elgar began composing the Enigma Variations instead of his “Gordon” Symphony for the martyred Protestant warrior and mystic, General Gordon. Remarkably, the H. D. S-P. Cipher in Variation II ingeniously identifies the name of the Turin Shroud’s first official photographer.
The Turin Shroud has been the subject of extensive scientific inquiry and analysis because no one has yet explained how a three-dimensional photographic negative of a crucified man could be transferred to a cloth thousands of years before the invention of photography. The “deathly stillness” expressed by the Mendelssohn fragments intersects perfectly with this tangible yet miraculous symbol of Christ’s death. Elgar’s Tasso paraphrase at the conclusion of the original score further points to this sacred relic, for the famous poet Torquato Tasso was the guest of honor when the holy shroud first arrived in Turin and was exhibited in 1578.
To make this point perfectly clear in a cryptographic sense, Elgar twice encodes in the score of Variation XIII the phrase “Dead God.” Appropriately enough, the lowest notes of the score are “D-E-A-D.” These are immediately followed by the note “G-D” given by the highest melody notes in the score. The first occurrence is in measures 497 through 500, and the second in bars 529 through 532. In both instances, the letters for the word “dead” are stated in the correct order by the bass line. This is immediately followed by the triple statement of the notes G-D by the flute, oboe, and clarinet, a coded allusion to the Trinity.
There are some intersecting ciphers shared by the Enigma Variations and the violin concerto. The first is the “A. M. D. G.” Ciphers. In the opening measure of the Violin Concerto, Elgar encodes the Jesuit dedication “A. M. D. G.” In measure 1, the notes G and D appear three times in the short score. The number 3 is the reverse of the cursive capital E found in Elgar’s initials (E.E.), so numerically Elgar initialed this cipher. The first letters of the performance directions (Allegro and mf) furnish the letters A and M. Combining these triple note letters with the first letters of the performance directions results in “A. M. D. G.” It should be mentioned that the note letter A appears twice in measure 1.
The Enigma Variations also has an A.M.D.G. Cipher in the first measure. The notes A, D, and G each appear three times in measure 1 of the Enigma Theme. The letter M is produced via Morse Code in the melody on beats 3 and 4.
If one were going to encode a secret dedication, it should be anticipated it would appear in the first measure. Although Elgar omitted inscribing his favorite dedication explicitly on the scores of the Enigma Variations and violin concerto, he ingeniously encrypted it in the very first measures of both works just as one would expect.
Another set of overlapping ciphers shared by the Enigma Variations and Violin Concerto are the “I AM” Ciphers. That title is cleverly encoded in the titles for the three movements of the violin concerto. They are:
- I. Allegro
- II. Andante
- III. Allegro molto
Merging together the Roman numerals and first letters from the titles of each movement produces six Is, three As, and one M. Conflating duplicate letters yields “I AM.” The “I AM” cipher is most explicitly represented by the first movement as demonstrated by pairing the Roman numeral I with the initials of the performance directions, Allegro and mf. The theologically significant statement “I AM” first appears in the book of Exodus:
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:13-14, ESV)
The violin concerto’s first and third movements are in B minor, and the second is in B-flat major. The letter B sounds just like the verb be, and “I AM” is one of its conjugations. Three movements in some manner of B or B-flat may be interpreted as an allusion to the “I AM” statement encoded in the titles. “I AM” is a formal title invoked by God, so the “I AM” Cipher unambiguously identifies Elgar’s secret friend. By dispersing this cipher over all three movements, Elgar subtly hints at the doctrine of the Triune Godhead. This reinforces the conclusion each movement is dedicated to one of the three Persons of the Trinity. This is all but affirmed by the 4/4 meter assigned to all three movements which, when conducted, replicates the sign of the cross. Reciting the Trinitarian formula provides the ultimate answer to the enigma posed by Elgar’s violin concerto.
The Enigma Variations also has an “I AM” Cipher embedded within the Enigma Theme. Its opening rhythmic figure consists of alternating eighth and quarter note pairs with regularly placed quarter rests on the first beat of each measure. This rhythmic palindrome occurs three times over the first six measures and is repeated three more times in measures 11 through 16 for a total of six episodes dispersed over twelve measures. In Morse code this metrical pattern spells “IMMI.” Elgar studied Morse code and created the palindrome Siromoris as his telegraphic address. Consequently, it is entirely reasonable to translate the Enigma Theme’s distinctive opening rhythm into Morse code. Kevin Jones points out:
Interpreting these rhythms as Morse Code provides an explanation for this distinctive arrangement. Two dots followed by two dashes spells out I M, which reversed becomes M I. This invites the interpretation “I am, am I?”
Elgar was a connoisseur of codes, an aficionado of anagrams, and as the composer of numerous sacred oratorios like The Apostles and The Kingdom was well-versed in theology. What message could he conceivably send through the Enigma Theme using the Morse code for “IMMI”? Kevin Jones observed the phonetic equivalent of “IM” is “I AM.” In light of Elgar’s penchant for anagrams, the mirror image of “IM” as “MI” may reasonably be construed as a second “I AM.” In theology, the double “I AM” is known as the Great “I AM.” As previously mentioned, it famously appears in a passage from the book of Exodus in which Moses encounters God at the burning bush. When asked by the Pharisees about his age and actual identity, Jesus replied by invoking that sacred title. Considering these interconnections, it seems obvious Elgar knew exactly what he was doing by incorporating the Morse code for the double “I AM.” in the Enigma Theme.
There is a variant of the “I AM” Cipher in Variation XIII that confirms Elgar deliberately encoded the double “I AM” in the Enigma Theme. This cipher draws on two German phrases encoded by two distinct music ciphers in Variation XIII. It was earlier noted the “FAE” cipher employs the key signatures of the Mendelssohn fragments: F minor, A-flat major, and E-flat major. The Mendelssohn Cipher is a more elaborate alphanumeric cipher that produces the letters “EFB.” These are the initials for Ein feste Burg, the title of the covert principal Theme. Notice both German phrases are three words in length:
- Frei aber einsam
- Ein feste Burg
Similar to the Romanza Cipher, the application of a one-for-one elimination of matching letters between these two German phrases leaves behind eight letters: AAIGMRTU.
Treated as an anagram, these eight letters may be reshuffled to spell “GRUAT I AM,” a phonetic version of “GREAT I AM.” Elgar’s use of phonetic spellings is thoroughly documented by his personal correspondence. For example, he respelled “excuse” as xqqq, and “score”as ckor, skore, skorh, skowre, skourrghe, csquorr, skourghowore, and ssczowoughohr. These elaborate respellings grant reasonable grounds for reading gruat as great, a single letter variance. Elgar’s More code reference to the Great “I AM” in the Enigma Theme ties in elegantly to this letter elimination cipher, the unstated Principal Theme, and the secret friend’s identity.
Regarding the violin concerto’s “I AM” Cipher, it is feasible in measure 1 to form the phrase “I AM G-D” using the Roman numeral “I”, the first letters of the performance directions Allegro and mf, and the note letters G and D. An identical result may be produced in the first measure of the Enigma Theme relying on the Morse Code patterns “I M”, and again pairing the notes G and D given on the first beat. A more elaborate Music Box Cipher in the first six measures of the Enigma Theme produces the name of Jesus in measure 1, so it is also feasible to create the statement “I am Jesus.”
There are other coded references to Christ within the Enigma Theme. The first measure encodes the number for Pi using the scale intervals of the melody, an important discovery made by Richard Santa. The Enigma Theme is in common time, and the symbol for that meter is a capital C. The combination of these symbols, Pi and C, results in the phonetic equivalent for pisce, the Latin word for fish. The sign of the fish, or Ichthys, is an early secret Christian symbol that is widely recognized and exhibited today. Pi also appears phonetically in the phrase Pie Jesu, a motet based on the final couplet of the Dies Irae which often appears in the Requiem Mass. Contrary to the views of some, that popular theme is not the covert principal Theme of the Enigma Variations. Combining Pi with the Music Box Cipher’s coded name for Jesus produces “Pi Gsus,” phonetic for Pie Jesus. In Latin “Pie Jesu” means Pious Jesus.
A Common Thread
There is a common thread running through the Enigma Variations and the violin concerto. The Romanza Cipher in Variation XIII identifies the source, the Turin Shroud. In a remarkable coincidence, the protagonist of Lesage’s novel quoted by Elgar – Gil Blas – grew up in the Spanish town of Oviedo. That city is renowned for housing the Shroud of Oviedo which is also known as the Sudarium. It is the companion cloth of the Turin Shroud believed to have covered the face of Christ at his death until he was placed in the tomb. Researchers have forensically linked the two clothes based on at least seventy points of coincidence, the linen material, matching AB blood types, and identical pollens that place them in the vicinity of Jerusalem. The case can be made Elgar quoted Lesage to indirectly hint through his use of literature to this companion cloth of the Turin Shroud that once covered the sacred head of his secret friend.
A Triune Dedication
It is theorized each of the violin concerto’s three movements is secretly dedicated to one of the three Persons of the Triune Godhead. With each movement set in common time, the standard conducting technique replicates the sign of the cross which circumstantially supports this thesis. Assuming the Trinitarian formula is followed in order, this would mean the first movement is dedicated to God the Father. This conclusion is backed up by the harmonies and melody notes of the first measure. The opening chord is F-sharp minor, and F is the first letter in the word Father. The F-sharp minor triad includes an A, the second letter in Father. The melody notes on beats 3 and 4.5 are G rising by a fifth to D. This is a phonetic spelling for God. The first movement has a 70 bar introduction before the violin solo begins. This is significant because 70 is the product of the numbers seven and ten. In biblical numerology seven is the divine number representing God’s holiness and perfection, and ten represents the completeness of God’s law as illustrated by the Ten Commandments. The violin solo’s opening themes include recurring triple B’s, a coded reference to the verb be, the I AM Cipher, and the Trinity.
Elgar uses this same melodic encoding technique in the opening of Variation XIII where the first two melody notes are G descending by a fourth to D. In both instances Elgar generates a phonetic rendering of God. The violin concerto’s first movement is also the longest at 366 measures, an outward sign this section is the largest and most important of the three. In the New Testament, the Trinitarian hierarchy describes Jesus as serving the Father, and the Holy Spirit as serving Jesus. Elgar sketched the opening theme first in 1905 following Kreisler’s glowing assessment of Elgar’s compositional talent, so the order in which the work was conceived is consistent with this hypothesis. God the Father is granted primacy in the Trinitarian formula, and this pattern holds true for the structure of the violin concerto.
Following this sequence, that would mean the Andante, the second movement, is dedicated in secret to the second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. This is the name revealed by the last names of the soloist and his violin, Kreisler Gesù for Christ Jesus. Like the first movement, the Andante is in common time which points to the Trinitarian formula. The Andante also has a forty note melodic introduction before the violin enters. The number forty is associated with Jesus because he spent forty days in the wilderness after being baptized by John the Baptist, and there were forty days from his resurrection to his ascension. The coded dedication originating from an epitaph combined with the soporific quality of the Andante’s tempo and introductory theme strongly suggests Christ resting in the tomb. Lesage’s “short tale” from which Elgar draws his dedication is in actuality a parable, and Christ is well known for many perceptive parables. In Lesage’s fable, the tomb held a treasure and secret note, and for Christians, the tomb of Christ also holds an immeasurable gift and a crucial message.
The third movement, the Allegro molto, is covertly dedicated to the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. The violin solo begins with quintuplets, a rhythmic pattern featured prominently in the opening of this movement. The number five is closely associated with the Holy Spirit because the Baptism of the Holy Spirit took place on Pentecost. Acts 2:1-4 reads:
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
In the Cadenza the violin solo is accompanied by a unique pizzicato tremolando performed by the string quartet. As the score specifies, “The pizz tremolando should be ‘thrummed’ with the soft part of the three or four fingers across the strings.” The effect was intended to simulate the sound of the wind blowing through the strings of an Aeolian harp. Elgar told Ernest Newman that the sound of a distant Aeolian harp fluttered around the soloist. In fact, Elgar had an Aeolian harp installed in the window of his study at Hereford. Elgar explained the wind blowing through it made an “ethereal and mystic” sound. The wind blowing through the harp symbolizes the Holy Spirit. Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), the Prince of Preachers, wrote, “The influences of the Holy Spirit, at times, pass through the soul like winds through an Aeolian harp, creating and inspiring sweet notes of gratitude and tones of desire to which we should have been strangers if it had not been for His divine visitation.” Elgar’s use of pizzicato tremolando in the Cadenza of the third movement reinforces the conclusion the Allegro molto is covertly dedicated to the Holy Spirit.
The Aeolian harp is an instrument of adoration and praise. It was King David who soothed the madness of Saul by playing for him on the harp. David famously composed the Psalms, songs of worship to be accompanied by the harp and other instruments. One of these, Psalm 46, inspired Martin Luther to compose his most famous hymn, Ein feste Burg. Immediately after completing the violin concerto, the Psalms were clearly on Elgar’s mind because he composed an anthem setting of Psalms 48 (Great is the Lord, Op. 67).
It was previously mentioned the Cadenza has nine ghost measures, and that these understandably hint at the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Ghost. Why nine ghost measures? In Galatians, the Apostle Paul describes nine attributes of the Fruit of the Holy Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Elgar set much of the New Testament to music with his sacred oratorios The Apostles (Op. 49) and The Kingdom (Op. 51), so he was undoubtedly familiar with this passage and the numerical connection between the number 9 and the Holy Spirit.
Lesage’s Puzzling Parable
All previous analysis of Elgar’s cryptic Spanish dedication fails to take into consideration other contextual features of Lesage’s fable. The dedication is a fragment from a Spanish epitaph found in the opening parable of the novel Gil Blas. Apart from the fragment, no one seems to have read the rest of the story or weighed its implications for a more thorough analysis of Elgar’s violin concerto. Towards that end, it is highly instructive to read the parable in its entirety:
Reader! Hark you, my friend! Do not begin the story of my life till I have told you a short tale.
Two students traveled together from Penafiel to Salamanca. Finding themselves tired and thirsty, they stopped by the side of a spring on the road. While they were resting there, after having quenched their thirst, by chance they espied on a stone near them, even with the ground, part of an inscription, in some degree effaced by time, and by the tread of flocks in the habit of watering at that spring. Having washed the stone, they were able to trace these words in the dialect of Castille: Aqui esta encerrada el alma del licenciado Pedro Garcias. “Here lies interred the soul of the licentiate Peter Garcias.”
Hey-day! Roars out the younger, a lively, heed less fellow, who could not get on with his deciphering for laughter. This is a good joke indeed: "Here lies interred the soul." ... A soul interred ! . . . I should like to know the whimsical author of this ludicrous epitaph. With this sneer he got up to go away. His companion, who had more sense, said within himself: Underneath this stone lies some mystery; I will stay, and see the end of it. Accordingly, he let his comrade depart, and without loss of time began digging round about the stone with his knife till he got it up. Under it he found a purse of leather, containing a hundred ducats, with a card on which was written these words in Latin: "Whoever thou art who hast wit enough to discover the meaning of the inscription, I appoint thee my heir, in the hope thou wilt make a better use of my fortune than I have done !" The student, out of his wits at the discovery, replaced the stone in its former position, and set out again on the Salamanca road with the soul of the licentiate in his pocket.
Now, my good friend and reader, no matter who you are, you must be like one or the other of these two students. If you cast your eye over my adventures without fixing it on the moral concealed under them, you will derive very little benefit from the perusal: But if you read with attention you will find that mixture of the useful with the agreeable, so successfully prescribed by Horace.
Notice the different reactions of the two traveling students. The first reads the deciphered epitaph and responds with mock derision before abruptly walking away empty-handed and as empty-headed as when he first arrived. The second student is more patient and perceptive. After waiting for his compatriot to depart, he quickly begins digging with his knife around the tombstone to discover what secrets lay hidden underneath. To his credit, he discovers a leather pouch containing 100 Ducats, and a hidden message in the form of a note in Latin. A careful analysis of the violin concerto’s score beginning at Rehearsal 100 reveals an intriguing music cipher identical in structure to the “Dead God” Cipher.
The solo violin part plays the notes E and D. These are the first two letters in Edward Elgar’s first name, and spell the common nickname Ed. In Hebrew Ed means witness and is the name given to an alter mentioned in Joshua 22:34. The salient passage reads in the King James Version, “And the children of Reuben and the children of Gad called the altar Ed: for it shall be a witness between us that the Lord is God.” The baseline beginning at Rehearsal 100 plays in order the notes B-A-G, spelling the word bag. This is a remarkable coincidence since Lesage’s story describes a leather bag containing 100 coins. Delving further into this music cipher, Elgar becomes even more specific by likening himself to the second student. In measures 736 through 738 the baseline presents in sequence the notes E, D, C, B, A, and G. That note sequence may be decrypted to read as the statements, “Ed sees bag” and “Ed seizes bag.” The notes E and D spell Ed. The octave Cs may be interpreted as sees or seize. The notes B, A, and G spell bag. This coded description in the baseline presents a stunning parallel with Lesage’s short tale.
A major implication of the Rehearsal 100 Cipher is the high probability Elgar encoded a secret Latin message in the score, a note encoded by musical notes. Such a cipher may be situated at Rehearsal 100, but more likely at Rehearsal 101 with the launch of the Cadenza. At Rehearsal 100 the baseline gradually descends from B down two full octaves as if Elgar wanted to symbolize the process of digging deeper and deeper into the ground. What kind of cipher would Elgar deploy? The most sophisticated would be his Music Box Cipher previously used in the Enigma Theme. In light of the various cipher connections between the Enigma Variations and the violin concerto, this is a very strong possibility.
The violin concerto has a 70 bar introduction and a 7 bar coda. These two sections frame the work with the divine number, and in so doing hint at the hidden friend’s divinity. With two sevens enclosing the work, this further suggests Elgar may have used a seven-by-seven Polybius cipher to encode a secret message. Assuming it is in Latin as implied by Lesage’s tale, the range of possible letter configurations using a 23-letter classical Latin alphabet would be 23 to the 49th power, an astronomical probability with 67 digits. The chances of brute forcing such a cipher would be remote without access to the most powerful supercomputers in the world today, the discovery of some key phrase or other critical clues that would dramatically narrow the range of possible letter configurations.
The preponderance of the evidence makes a compelling case for Jesus Christ as the common friend secretly portrayed in the Enigma Variations and the violin concerto. The enigmatic dedications share some uncanny similarities which collectively furnish a compelling circumstantial case that the secret friends are identical. Both dedications are six-word fragments. Even the Mendelssohn quotations in Variation XIII – the movement dedicated to the secret friend – are fragmentary. The tomb inscription and the Mendelssohn fragments are foreign and anomalous, appearing extraneous to each work; yet they exhibit a common theme rooted in death. At the violin concerto’s premiere, the name of Elgar’s secret friend was literally under the nose of the soloist, Fritz Kreisler. The last name on the label of his extraordinary violin is Gesù, the Italian word for Jesus. Elgar likely suspected the last place anyone would search for the answer would be the last names of the soloist and his violin: Kreisler Gesù, a thinly veiled reference to Christ Jesus.
Multiple ciphers in the Enigma Variations confirm Christ as Elgar’s hidden friend. The most notable are the Pi-C, Pi-Jesus, Roman Numeral XIII, Romanza, and “Dead God” Ciphers. The absent Principal Theme is itself instrumental in settling this question because it only cites one name in its lyrics: Jesus Christ. Armed with these insights, unmasking the identity of the secret friend embodied in the violin concerto becomes a much less daunting exercise. Knowing who and what to look for narrows the search considerably.
The Enigma Variations and the violin concerto share some strikingly similar cryptograms such as the “I AM” and “A. M. D. G.” ciphers. The first measure of both works contains a coded dedication to God, something Elgar conspicuously omitted from their cover pages. In each, the first measure also encodes one of God’s most enigmatic titles, the Great “I AM.” Variation XIII’s “Dead God” Cipher and the violin concerto’s Rehearsal 100 Cipher are reminiscent of his earlier violin piece, the Allegretto on G-E-D-GE, for they use base and melody notes in the score to encipher names and phrases. The first two melody notes of Variation XIII are G and D, a phonetic spelling for God. The opening measure of the violin concerto also presents these two identical notes in the correct order. In each case, Elgar melodically spells out the answer. In Roman Catholicism, Jesus is the second Person of the Trinity, so these coded references to God and Christ are complementary rather than contradictory.
The Enigma Variations and the violin concerto in one sense are cut from the same cloth, for the first encodes a reference to the Turin Shroud, and the second the Shroud of Oviedo. These are the burial clothes believed to have wrapped the body and head of Christ respectively. The Romanza Cipher in Variation XIII mentions the Turin Shroud. Elgar hints at this sacred burial cloth by paraphrasing Tasso at the end of the original score because Tasso was the guest of honor when that sacred burial cloth was first delivered to the city of Turin where it is housed to this day. Like the Tasso paraphrase, Elgar’s partial quotation from Lesage’s novel alludes to the Shroud of Oviedo. This construal is viable because Gil Blas, the protagonist, leaves the town of Oviedo at the age of seventeen to pursue his dream of attending University. In an interesting parallel, the Enigma Theme is seventeen measures long. No wonder Elgar requested the Nobilmente theme from the Andante be inscribed on his tombstone, for the only hope he could entertain beyond the grave is for the resurrection promised by his secret friend.
In a revealing gesture, the violin concerto’s three movements are in common time. The standard conducting technique for that meter replicates the sign of the cross, so throughout the premiere Elgar, like a high priest, was continuously crossing the orchestra. This revelation provides a basis for believing each of the three movements is dedicated to one of the three Persons of the Trinity. Following the Trinitarian formula in order would indicate the first movement is dedicated to God the Father, the second to God the Son, and the third to God the Holy Spirit. Some features of these movements are entirely consistent with these identifications. In the third movement, the repeated quintuplet figures, nine ghost measures and Aeolian harp effect all point to the Holy Ghost, the third Person of the Trinity. More intensive research promises to uncover even more secrets lying dormant within the violin concerto. The most tantalizing among them is the prospective Latin note implied by the decryption of the Rehearsal 100 Cipher. This preliminary analysis has by no means unlocked all of the mysteries of Elgar’s violin concerto. Like Lesage’s curious students who cleaned off the tombstone to unveil the inscription, this survey has merely scratched the surface.
To learn more about the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed. Please help support and expand my original research by becoming a sponsor on Patreon.
 Rushton, J. (1999). Elgar: Enigma Variations (Cambridge Music Handbooks). New York: Cambridge University Press, p. 46.
 Adams, Byron (2007). Edward Elgar and His World (The Bard Music Festival). Princeton: Princeton University Press, p. 181
 Ibid, p. 65.
 Kennedy, M. (2004). The life of Elgar. New York: Cambridge University Press, p. 102.
 Anderson, R. (1993). Elgar. New York: Schirmer Books, p. 99.
 McVeagh, D. M. (2007). Elgar the music maker. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, p. 135.
 Adams, Byron (2007). Edward Elgar and His World (The Bard Music Festival). Princeton: Princeton University Press, p. 175
 Ibid, p. 179.
 Adams, Byron (2007). Edward Elgar and His World (The Bard Music Festival). Princeton: Princeton University Press, p. 179.
 Buckley, Robert J. Sir Edward Elgar. London: J. Lane, 1905, p. 34.
 Ibid, p. 35
 Adams, Byron (2007). Edward Elgar and His World (The Bard Music Festival). Princeton: Princeton University Press, p. 175.
 Moore, J. N. (1999). Edward Elgar: A Creative Life (Reissued as a Clarendon paperback. ed.). Oxford: Oxford university press, p.586
 Cited from an unpublished paper by Eric Sams entitled Elgar’s Cipher Table (1970-71).